Dancing at the Gold Monkey
“Point Man” is from Allen Learst’s first collection, Dancing at the Gold Monkey (Leapfrog Press). Learst served in Vietnam as a combat infantryman in the 101st Airborne Division. At eighteen, he went to work at a Chrysler tank plant, and after coming home from the war worked in a series of blue-collar jobs. Dancing at the Gold Monkey is a collection of eleven linked short stories that draw upon those experiences.
Learst said this about his story: Most people give me a strange look when I tell them I worked on “Point Man” for eight years. It was the story that wouldn’t go away, wouldn’t leave me alone because I knew it was a story I wanted to tell, but I didn’t know how; I didn’t understand the craft of fiction well enough to give my characters life, to make them believable. “Point Man” began as a clichéd war account. It changed point of view several times before I settled on third person limited omniscience.
I discovered the story’s center one day while rewriting and realized it was a story about the debilitating psychological aftermath two characters experience after Vietnam. One night I went into a neighborhood tavern in Detroit and ended up sitting next to a Vietnam veteran. It was 1973 and we were talking about the war, how good it was to be home, and buying each other drinks. Then he suggested we flip a quarter to see who would buy the next round, when the bartender, a young woman, told us we couldn’t gamble in the bar. I think we looked at her and then at each other and started to laugh.
The other vet said that we weren’t gambling, we were both Vietnam veterans and we were just trying to figure out our heads from our tails. It would be nearly 20 years before that line found its way into “Point Man” and I knew I had something significant to reveal—the awful irony of our experience very few people would ever understand. I also knew the story had to be in first person, so I rewrote it again.